Pavlov's Religious Conditioning
Belief or disbelief hinges upon what is considered evidence. But it can also affected by information with suits our emotional or psychological needs. What we think we need emotionally or psychologically may create the desire to believe concepts which, if we were not so emotionally or psychologically needy, would be dismissed as wishful thinking.
That is, the desire to believe in improbabilities might be directly correlated to our desire for emotional and psychological gratificiation. Or, we believe things because it makes us feel good. Being told that evidence suggests that the diversity of life is the result of favorable genetic traits being more likely to survive and reproduce than unfavorable traits, doesn’t produce the same level of “feel good chemicals” in the brain as being told that there is a special father-like figure who lives everywhere who has a special plan for each of us individually.
There may be in some people a chemical response preference for that which makes them feel good about themselves. That human beings can elicit a positive emotional response to a concept does not mean that the concept itself is true. What it may mean is that human beings have developed, through cultural, societal and political influences, a favourable reaction and response to certain concepts.
It may be like a favourable word association that is played in our brains. The god meme is planted through cultural and religious immersion and the favourable response to that concept is elicited emotionally and psychologically. Perhaps in a similar way that behaviour modification theorists equated the ringing of a bell with a saliva response in dogs. Now, I know that the Pavlov’s dogs theory as used will be unpopular, but popularity is also no determinant for truth.
I suggest that our brains have been trained by the cultures in which we are immersed in, to find the concept of a god as pleasurable. Then, in order to elicit a pleasurable response in ourselves and others en masse, all that is required is the trigger. The trigger for this positive emotional response, is the word god or jesus.
If you live in a muslim country where a similar process has occurred, the trigger is allah, or muhammad. And so it applies to other words which eventually just by the thought of them, or the speaking of the word, elicit a positive or a negative emotional response.
Of course words can also elicit emotional responses which trigger a physical response. The obvious example of this is to think of sucking a lemon. For many of us who are familiar with lemons, the physical response is that the mouth produces more saliva. This is deemed pleasant or unpleasant depending on whether or not you like lemons. Therefore, as we have emotional responses to various words depending on our associations with those words, so do we have physical responses as a result of the association.
So, I would suggest that belief in a god depends not upon the type of evidence that a disbeliever would require in order to believe, but that the willingness to believe is related to the positive feelings that can be elicited through belief. It is kind of like a junkie in some ways who shoots up over and over again in order to attain the chemical high he/she is familiar with. So too with god belief, the brain works towards eliciting the “feel good chemicals” over and over again regardless of whether the concept that elicits this “high” is real or not.
The emotional and chemical high that some people attain through belief, may end up being considered “the evidence” for the existence of that which is evoking the pleasurable response.
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"White Rabbit" - Jefferson Airplane
Pavlovian conditioning was a major theme in Aldous Huxley's novel, Brave New World, and also to a large degree in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.